India is a stunning destination that will excite and challenge
the senses at every turn. It is a destination of such
diversity and intensity that will leave you mesmerised and
exhausted in the same breath.
This is not a destination for the faint of heart. There is travel and there is holidaying. Make no mistake, this very much falls into the travel category!
But those that are prepared to take the plunge and allow their senses to be challenged and assaulted will be rewarded with a destination that embraces the spiritual, offers exquisite architecture, challenging but delicious cuisine, and bursts with colour and vibrance.
WHERE TO START - RAJASTHAN
India is a large land mass filled with contrasts and cultures. Simply speaking, the North of the country is steeped in history and culture, and provides the authentic Indian experience that we would expect. The South of the country is far more relaxed and restful - a destination for hitting the beaches, relaxing in house boats and enjoying a yoga retreat.
Those intending to visit India usually take a minimum of 12-14 days to scratch the surface of the North. Three to four weeks is more typical for travellers intending to combine their trip with a visit to the South.
Make no mistake, India is a large land mass and the infrastructure can be best described as absolute chaos. Getting around takes time and patience.
Kiwis travelling to India for the first time will normally start with the Rajasthan district, where your Indian immersion will include visits to the stunning architectural temples, palaces and monuments of the Maharajas. Delhi is the main hub for travellers into the North, and its new and old cities offer distinct contrasts.
Must sees for the visitor to Delhi include the Red Fort (the palace for Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan's), Raj Ghat (the memorial to Mahatmar Gandhi), Jama Masjid (the principle mosque of Old Delhi) and the Indian Gate (national monument inspired by the Arc de Triomphe).
2-3 hours train ride from Delhi is the iconic Taj Mahal - a major drawcard for visitors to India. Built by Mughal Shah Jahan as a tribute of love to his third wife, this exquisite white marble mausoleum is considered the best example of Mughal architecture and has achieved UNESCO World Heritage status. Note that this national monument is closed to the public on Fridays.
Architect buffs should count Jaisalmer on their must-do lists. The region, located deep in the heart of the Thar Desert is famed for its exquisitely carved 12th Century houses, beautifully preserved forts and palaces built by the Maharajas. Colourful and vibrant markets are also characteristic of this township.
Those that romanticise their visit to India by getting lost in the endless alleyways, markets and narrow winding streets, will find their calling in Udaipur.
Goa and Kerala
After a sensory explosion in the North, many visitors seek refuge and relaxation in the Southern Beaches. Goa is the best known tourist destination for a sun, surf and sand holiday.
Another popular R&R option is the Southern province of Kerala, with its elaborate network of lagoons, lakes, rivers and tributaries. Cruising on a private house boat gives you a tranquil and unique perspective of how the locals use the water in pursuing their daily activities.
Welcome to the spiritual hub of India, where Hindus make their pilgrimages to wash away a lifetime of sins in the river of salvation - the Ganges , or to cremate their loved ones. The citys ghats dot along the riverside and make for riveting people watching, as pilgrims conduct sacred rituals celebrating life and death.
Few places in the world will you see such a striking contrast between wealth and poverty as Mumbai. Within the often overwhelming chaos of Indias major metropolitan city you can observe the obscene wealth of the financial powerhouse of India with its glittering sky scrapers and Bollywood buzz. In sharp contrast is the extreme poverty of the slums.
The scenic backdrop of Hollywood blockbuster Slumdog Millionaire, Mumbai is an intoxicating clash of Indian culture, Bollywood drama, historic architecture, stomach churning poverty, financial excess mixed with the odd spiritual sanctuary.
HOW AND WHEN TO TRAVEL
Most Kiwis find that travel between September and April is the most comfortable time to experience India, while May to August can be stifling because of the heat.
Independent Guided Holidays
At House of Travel, we find that 80% of travellers to India would like to have a relatively independent experience. In this instance, your House of Travel agent will usually organise an accredited English speaking driver guide to facilitate your travel plans. This is the best way to manage your itinerary so that you get exactly what you want from your time in India, and at the same time enable you to be immersed in the history, culture, culinary experiences and adventure activities that are on offer.
Small Group Touring
Some travellers prefer the company of travelling within a group. Small group touring is also a popular option for the savvy and the younger traveller alike. There are a number of reputable operators that have pre-prepared itineraries for tourists to get the most out of their Indian experience.
India by Rail
For those looking to tour in style, India by rail provides unique and luxurious perspective of the vibrant, unfolding landscape. Staying in sleeper carriages, your train journey will take you point to point across the vast landscape, stopping at key destinations where you will be escorted by a guide to visit the local sights and highlights. For those with a penchant for the familiar, this offers a safe and comfortable option and is relatively cost effective when compared to the likes of the Orient Express.
SOME RECOMMENDED MUST DOS IN INDIA
Cooking Classes - experience the authenticity of real Indian cuisine when you combine your own spices and ingredients together to prepare a delicious vegetarian of meat based meal.
Yoga Retreat in Goa - tap into your spiritual side and find
release from the sensual overload of India by experiencing yoga
sessions in the relaxing South.
Riding Camels in Rajasthan - take a tour or even a safari into Thar (great Indian desert), and camp under the stars to enjoy a greater appreciation of desert life.
Tuk Tuk Rides in Delhi - risk life and limb along the crazy streets of Delhi and experience the eclectic pace of the city first hand in an open air Tuk Tuk.
House of Travel are currently offering 10% off all India Total Holiday Options private car tour packages for 10 days or more, for sales until 18 September 2012.
Special conditions apply. For more information, visit your local House of Travel store.